As part of Melbourne based Benevolence Australia’s convert care services the “I’ll Fast with You” campaign was launched this year for Ramadan.
A calendar of events for the month were developed as well as some pre and post Ramadan activities to help people stay connected, share in the community spirit and make the most of the amazing opportunities of this blessed time of year. Interested converts have also been matched up with mentors to stay in touch with them through the month and to partake in iftar together.
The shared community experience of Ramadan is arguably the greatest spectacle of religious worship in the world. Shared at both a local and global level the atmosphere is charged and our consciousness refocused. Families come together to break their fasts and to spend time with one another. Communities come together to share a meal and worship God.
But for many converts to Islam the experience can be challenging, confusing and lonely. Without Muslim family or friends to share this month, the community buzz and the many events taking place are easily missed. Without support, fasting can become spiritually stressful, where the challenges of coping with hunger are coupled with feelings of isolation that their new religious practices bring.
There have been a number of highlights of the campaign “I’ll Fast with You” so far. The huge turn out of people (400+) to our community iftar with a large number of converts created an amazing multicultural atmosphere rarely seen in the Muslim community.
This was followed by our popular convert iftar, paid for by the generous donations of the community. A large Muslim restaurant was booked out to host converts and their loved ones. With a number of individual converts fasting for the first time, it has been great seeing these faces throughout the month at our events and witness the growing sense of community. Many new friendships have formed that we hope will be life-long.
The way the convert community and wider Muslim community have come together through this initiative has been heart warming. It is a reminder of the positive role that the community can play in welcoming and supporting converts on their path. It is also a reminder that converts can quickly feel a part of the community. But it’s also important to recognise that as a community we still have much to do. People are continually been guided to this faith, yet at the same time there is a constant stream of people who struggle to fit in and leave.
One thing that we need to internalise is that we need converts. The recent passing of Muhammad Ali is a reminder of this. This was a man that raised the status and honour of our community, that helped many Muslims feel pride in their religion and still does. Even his janazah was an act of service to the Muslim community.
There are many converts in the West who play this role. There are converts who are religious scholars, community leaders, activists, artists and professional athletes. They are reminders to us that at any moment God could bring someone new into our community that could play a transformative and leading role just as Umar RA did when he converted to Islam during the Prophet Muhammad (s) time in Makkah.
We as a community must strive to guide and support them in a way that empowers them. This requires us to be ready for change. This requires us to be willing to listen to the input and insight that converts bring. A new convert has much to offer. The insight from a person who sees something for the first time can be profound. Our hope is that initiatives of this kind will enable more new Muslims to find their feet in this beautiful religion and lay the foundation for them to become active and empowered members of the Muslim community so that they inshaAllah will lay the pathway for others to follow.